Bill before state House would require concussions training for young athletes, parents

Hartford — A bill debated at a public hearing of the legislature’s Committee on Children would require training about concussions for young athletes and their parents, require school districts to report these injuries and limit full-contact practice to 90 minutes per week.

“I am an avid sports fan,” said state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport. “We are all conditioned to cheer for the player who is injured and comes back into the game. But with what we know today, there simply is nothing more wrongheaded, pardon the pun, than to encourage that kind of activity.”

Most legislators and public officials said Thursday that concussion training should be expanded to parents and athletes, but they disagreed on whether it should be required by law.

Two controversial parts of the bill are whether full-contact practice — drills, scrimmages or live game simulations — should be limited to 90 minutes per week and whether school districts should be required to report concussions and brain injuries.

Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook asked what would happen if a practice went on longer than that.

Paul Slager, an attorney and member of the National Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice, said it is entirely appropriate to limit full-contact practice time, and many coaches already want to.

“I think there are others, though, who really push the envelope, and those are the ones that need to be subjected to this sort of legislation,” Slager said.

Luke Sherwood of Westport told the committee that he had his first concussion in the sixth grade. He said after falling during soccer, he didn’t have any immediate symptoms and kept going to school and playing sports. Two days after he had hit his head, he became confused about which way to run while playing basketball and couldn’t focus during the Connecticut Mastery Test, he said.

Four days later, he went to the doctor and was told he had a concussion. He stopped playing sports but continued going to school per his doctor’s advice. His headache, confusion and dizziness got worse, and he developed post-concussion syndrome, he said. He was knocked down again while playing soccer a year later. His coached asked him if he wanted to go back onto the field, but Sherwood refused because he was “smart enough not to go back on.”

“I feel that if I had been able to identify my first concussion sooner … I would not have ended up with post-concussion syndrome,” Sherwood said.

Current state law requires coaches, who have coaching permits through the state Department of Education, to be trained before they start the athletic season.

“We want to take the initial bill forward and not just rely on coaches but have parents and athletes be informed about the current research on concussions and what the negative impacts can be on kids,” said Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, who co-chairs the Committee on Children.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, in cooperation with the state’s departments of education and public health, manages the training for coaches. Urban said that same group could manage the training for parents and athletes.

The training could be in the form of written material or video and would require “informed consent” or a signature from parents, she said.

However, Karissa L. Niehoff, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference said the group supports the intent but not the bill as written.

She said the bill is too specific and doesn’t give the association the flexibility it needs to be nimble and adapt to best practices.

Niehoff said the association’s football committee just passed a proposed mandate recommending 120 minutes of full contact a week during the first two weeks, 90 minutes a week during the season and 60 minutes a week post-season. The association has also mandated that schools must train parents and student athletes, she said. The association’s website has free online education materials.

No states have laws that limit full-contact practice, she said.

The last part of the proposed bill includes a reporting requirement for local and regional school distracts.

State Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said protecting student athletes was paramount but that she feared the reporting requirements could burden schools.

Urban said she and her co-chairman, state Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, made the current bill broad to get as much feedback as possible and are willing to modify the language based on the public’s concern.

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